Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office director ousted

Erika McConnell at a Marijuana Control Board meeting on Nov. 13, 2019.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - At a regularly scheduled meeting of the Marijuana Control Board in Anchorage, the five-person board voted 3-2 in support of a motion to remove Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office director Erika McConnell.

The motion had originally been passed by the Alcohol Control Board in October. "I believe that this was driven by the [Dunleavy] administration and exactly why, I'm not sure," said McConnell in a phone interview with KTUU.

McConnell said that the move was very upsetting in light of the fact that she had never been told that she was doing anything wrong by board members.

"My job is to try to enforce the statues and the regulations and in doing so that over the past almost three years, it's clearly raised some issues that have made people unhappy," she said.

At Wednesday's meeting, a motion was introduced by board member Bruce Schulte, who said that while he has "no unkind words to say" about McConnell, "a change of leadership is appropriate at this time."

Nick Miller, another board member, said during the meeting that there had been complaints about timelines.

"Anyone who has participated in the last meetings has heard about the extended time frames to get things completed, responses from AMCO. I believe it’s costing business owners money and time," he said during discussion.

The vote follows a similar one by the Alcohol Control Board in October. That board voted 5-0 to remove McConnell from her position.

Marijuana Control Board director Mark Springer defended McConnell, saying that nobody likes their boss.

"She has always been on top of the issues" he said.

He also suggested opposition is coming from factions of the alcohol industry.

"This has been something of a railroad job based on the fact that people can’t play music in a distillery tasting room," he said.

McConnell agreed that her push to clarify and enforce statutes on tasting room regulation was part of the reason she was voted out.

She said that when she was made aware of confusion about rules she went to the Alcohol Control Board to seek clarification. The board then opened a regulations project to provide definitions on what is allowed and McConnell said she acted on that guidance.

"That's my job, to implement and enforce the statute and the regulation If it's not clear what it means. I go to the board and say 'board, what does this mean?'"

Instead, McConnell says, people accused her of overstepping her authority.

"There were a lot of people who didn't really understand what was happening and accused me of trying to shut things down, or trying to prevent people from having fun and that sort of thing, which is not what happened," she said.

McConnell also butted heads with the Department of Public Safety over access to a criminal database.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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